52 Ancestors, Week 15: Solitude

My great-grandparents Fortunato Piccioli and Francesca Pierini Piccioli.

It’s Week 15 of the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks project, created by genealogist Amy Johnson Crow. And this week, April 9-15, the theme is Solitude.

My father’s maternal grandparents, Francesca Pierini Piccioli and Fortunato Piccioli, were born in the village of Mondolfo, in the Marche region of Italy, and married sometime around 1898. They seem to have moved soon afterward. They quickly had two sons, Stefano, born in 1899, and then Mario Andrew, who was born in 1902 in the village of Serravalle di Carda. A daughter, Anna Rosa, arrived a little later, probably around 1905. Now we get to the solitude part.

Sometime between then and the fall of 1907, Francesca and Fortunato left Italy. Perhaps they traveled together as far as France. But Francesca and her children remained there, because Francesca found a job. Fortunato, on the other hand, disappears from my records until November 1907. That’s when he arrived at Ellis Island on a ship out of Rotterdam. I don’t know why he was in the Netherlands, though I assume he’d traveled north looking for work. He lived in northeastern Pennsylvania, working and saving money, until his wife and children joined him there in April 1909.

Francesca’s solitude may have been more difficult than his. In France, she worked as a wet nurse to a wealthy woman while also caring for her own children. So she was separated from her husband but also had the responsibility of taking care of several small children, in addition to working. And worst of all, Anna Rosa died, sometime before the birth of her sister Pierina in France in January 1907.

I try to imagine what it would have been like for both Fortunato and Francesca. Both were working in a foreign country where they most likely had no friends or family. They could not speak the language. Did Fortunato know of the death of one daughter and the birth of another? I’m not sure. I haven’t yet learned when he left for the Netherlands; he may have worked there for several years before leaving for the United States in 1907. And what would it have been like for Francesca, working for a woman who could afford to hire help with her own newborn, while the Piccioli children would have been living in poverty, their father far away?

What a relief it must have been for the family to be reunited in the U.S. They had a long and fruitful marriage, having ten children altogether — I imagine by then, there were times when Francesca would have enjoyed a little solitude! Besides Anna Rosa, another child, a boy named Edward, also died as a small child. And another son, Americo, the first to be born in the U.S., was killed in a hunting accident at the age of 16. Despite their hardships, the family thrived. Francesca even opened a grocery store and bar. The establishment must have done well; Fortunato eventually stopped mining coal in order to work in the family business, as well.

Those years of solitude must have been harrowing, but they must have seen them as an investment in the future of their marriage and their children.

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